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No Farm Bill Christmas Present

House passes farm bill one-month extension while principals continue to hammer out details with hopes of January final passage.


Delays in receiving final cost estimates on a farm bill compromise left House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., forced to look to an one-month extension on the farm bill, rather than passing a bill before the House adjourned Dec. 13.

Thursday the House passed by a voice vote a short-term extension until the end of January for current farm programs, which will give negotiators more time to reach an agreement on a new five-year law.

In a statement Tuesday, Lucas said great progress has been made and productive meetings continue. However, there are still some outstanding issues that the principals are addressing.

"I am confident we'll work through them and finish a farm bill in January," Lucas said.

He noted that the House passing the one-month extension was the "responsible thing to do" in light of the looming threat of the government being forced to come in and revert dairy prices to decades' old law.

Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., remains opposed to an extension as it could allow direct payments to continue for another year. "That's absolutely unacceptable and will not pass the Senate," she said.

The Senate is not expected to vote on an extension, but the process will continue to move forward. Stabenow has stated that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack assured her there would be no impacts on dairy prices in January, even without an extension. This allows negotiators to continue their work and prepare a conference committee report that can be voted on early next month.

Congressional Budget Office scores of key components of the compromise were expected Dec. 9, however were still not in the hands of legislators until Friday. A staffer confirmed the scores had been received Friday and both Stabenow and Lucas were "pleased with the scores, and they are right within the parameters of what they've been looking for."

Following a meeting Friday morning, Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said, "I’m pleased to say that we are making progress, but there are still decisions that lie ahead of us. I am hopeful that on both sides of the aisle in both bodies, we can come together on a farm bill agreement that will reform and modernize programs, produce budget savings at the same time, and provide certainty about the government’s role to producers and consumers alike,” Cochran said.

The Senate will stay in D.C. until Dec. 20, and Lucas and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., have agreed to stay to work on the bill as well.

The American Soybean Association reported that it is likely that the leaders will hammer out their deal before the end of the year, and then pass it to the conferees for review when Congress returns Jan. 6 in the Senate and Jan. 7 in the House.

"This points to the potential that a deal can be considered by both Houses of Congress during the second week of January," ASA said in its weekly newsletter Dec. 12.

With regard to the commodity title, reports are that the draft framework would offer a choice for producers between keeping their current base acres or updating their base to an average of what they’ve planted the last five years. Additionally, producers will have a choice between the Senate’s Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program and the House’s Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program which provide revenue and price protection.

Due to the delay in the CBO estimates, leadership was in a "holding pattern," ASA stated. "Once the bill is scored, the leaders will have to adapt their plan to fit the budget number given to them by CBO. This means that both PLC and ARC could look very different, depending on how much CBO says they’ll cost."

On the nutrition title, reports indicate the compromise could include a target between $8 billion and $15 billion, which is much lower than the House's $40 billion, but more inline what was original thought could be agreed upon between the two chambers.

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